Wolfgang Blass arrived in Australia in 1961 with little more than a diploma in winemaking from Germany and a spectacular gift for marketing combined with a capacity for hard work. He started his own label five years later and over almost half a century has built a reputation and a wine label that now spans the world.
Blass cleverly offers wines in a range of coloured labels, at a range of prices. The labels start with red and yellow, then move upwards in terms of quality from gold to white and then on from blue to grey to black and finally platinum.
The entry-level red and yellow labels, usually value for money, are designed to be drunk now. The blue through to platinum range offer high quality and are priced appropriately. Ideally they should be cellared for several years.
Readers familiar with this column will know that the black label, a Bordeaux blend with 27 per cent shiraz, was equal first in this year’s Master Blend Classification, a blind tasting of 30 of the world’s best Bordeaux blends. Details can be found here http://sraquinn.org/2013/11/29/wine-column-for-week-of-2-december-2013/.
James Halliday, Australia’s longest-established wine reviewer, has published his Australian Wine Companion each year for almost two decades. In recent years he has given Wolf Blass wines a red five-star rating, the highest award. He notes that in recent years the quality of the red wines “has re-asserted itself over the white wines, but without in any way diminishing the attraction the latter have”.
“All of this has occurred under the leadership of [chief winemaker] Chris Hatcher, who has harnessed the talents of the winemaking team and encouraged the changes in style.” It was Hatcher who encouraged Treasury Wines in Australia to organise the Master Blend Classification, which started last year.
The mid-range labels – gold and white – fill the intriguing mid range and they are the subject of this week’s column.
Hatcher told me the white label was “something of an experiment”, a way to introduce new regions and parcels of grapes along with new wine styles. Currently only two white label wines are available, a riesling from the Clare Valley and a chardonnay from the Piccadilly Valley near Adelaide, both in South Australia.
The 2012 white label riesling offers aromas at the lime/green apple end of the citrus spectrum and has a pristine textural quality in the mouth that is especially appealing. The acidity is almost juicy in the way it plays in one’s mouth, and the wine has wonderful length and finish.
Riesling has the capacity to age for several decades – I recently tasted German versions made in the 1950s that still seemed young and fresh – and the white label is the kind of riesling that I would like to meet in another two decades.
The 2012 white label chardonnay smells of grapefruit and white peaches. The texture impresses – like a silk dress floating in a warm breeze as it caresses one’s mouth with a creamy feeling that matches the aromas first encountered in the glass. It was fermented totally in French barriques using wild yeasts, which helps explain the texture. The aftertaste also offers a lovely hint of gunflint.
The 2012 gold label riesling won a silver medal at two highly prestigious events, the 2013 Decanter Asia Wine Awards and the 2013 International Wine Challenge in London. Grapes are from the Eden Valley, one of the best places in Australia for this variety. In the mouth the wine has intense flavours of green apples and lime with fine acidity that balances the crisp fruit.
Australia makes a wide range of chardonnays. The grape makes such a diverse range of wines because it is “neutral” compared with riesling, which is an “aromatic” variety. Chardonnay tends to be pliable, taking on the characteristics of the terroir or the winemaking techniques.
The 2012 gold label chardonnay is a blend of fruit from across the Adelaide hills in South Australia. This is not a rich and full-bodied style. It is more about finesse and balance, even though it received 100 per cent French oak, 30 per cent of it new. Think subtle combinations of fruit and zingy acidity. These produce a memorable wine with a creamy mouthfeel.
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